29
Jul

I can’t cook.

And?

It’s not my fault.

Growing up in the Keizer household, our meals typically revolved around three dishes: cheeseburgers, hotdogs and steak. Summers, we’d mix things up a bit with BBQ chicken and brats. And for those really special occasions? Takeout. We loved us some beef chop suey, sausage pizza and Italian beef sandwiches. That’s how we roll in the Midwest.

Okay, so two things. First, the main common denominator among all these meals? Meat. Consider it the sun in a Chicagoan’s cuisine universe. All other foods orbit it. FYI – the day I drove into California, I became a vegetarian. (Made sense to me as California is in a galaxy far, far away.) Second, our family has always been a staunch supporter of “ready to inhale” foods. Aside from our favorite Chinese place, pizza place and Italian beef place, our dessert of choice was anything in an Entenmann’s box. No fuss, no muss. By the time I left for college, my entire cooking repertoire consisted of making a mean pot of Rice-A-Roni.

For many years, I wasn’t bothered by this pathetic lack of kitchen skills. I was perfectly happy with Top Ramen noodles and Chef Boyardee. As long as I had my trusty microwave, all was right in the world. My microwave has always been my most prized possession with radiation capabilities. I’ve used him (yes, it’s a him) for everything from boiling water to warming up a very tasty Hot Pocket. (There’s not a lot in between, I know.)

And I loved telling people, “I don’t cook at all!” I considered it a huge waste of time and money. Why buy every single ingredient you need for every single meal when Marie Callender, Mrs. Paul and Sara Lee have already made it for you? Just visit them in the freezer section, and you’re good to go. Then spend that time and money on something worthwhile like watching reruns of Family Feud or adding to your burgeoning PEZ collection.

My cooking strike lasted for years, yet as time went on I realized that my self-proclaimed lack of interest was hiding a deep, dark secret: my fear of anything in a Williams-Sonoma catalogue. Cheese graters? Salad spinners? Vegetable peelers? What the hell were these things? Weren’t they really the modern day equivalents of medieval torture devices? I was scared. Yet throughout college and grad school, this phobia was easy enough to hide. I had some pretty fabulous roommates who loved to cook, so I just pretended to graciously allow them sole use of the kitchen as if I was Al Gore conceding the presidency.

Alas, soon enough I was living on my own again and a new obstacle presented itself: the ubiquitous potluck. Granted, potlucks make perfect sense, especially in LA. Considering that you can wipe out an entire week’s salary in one night at Spago’s (clueless if this is still a “happening” restaurant… or if people are still saying “happening”), you simply cannot go out to eat for every occasion. Therefore – BBQs, birthdays, Thanksgiving – you name it, there was a potluck for it. The performance anxiety was crippling. I couldn’t bring something I had bought at the store or nuked in the microwave. Those times I did, I sensed a palpable contempt aimed in my direction. Apparently a Vons cake does not show that you care enough to send the very best. But if only anyone knew my embarrassing predicament, they would appreciate my effort to bring something edible to the festivities.

How could I even compare? I was the cooking equivalent of the Yugo. Meanwhile, my friends were showing up with impressive concoctions that I could only gawk at with shame and envy. Just last month, my friends threw me a birthday dinner. The main course? Lasagna from scratch. Meat and vegetarian. While one part of me was enjoying the evening with those I love most, the other was internally lamenting that I could never do the same for them. I then drowned my sorrows in a piece of homemade apple pie.

But I’m slowly beginning to confront my fears. Now I can make a pie, too… A no bake pie. Don’t laugh. It requires pudding, which I’m able to make from scratch, thank you very much. I’ve even made a few batches of cupcakes that have gone over pretty well. And my potato salad was a hit at the last backyard BBQ. Not to say this will one day turn into a cooking blog. Last week I made penne pasta with vodka cream sauce – also from scratch! – for dinner. It tasted like… nothing. I forgot salt. My friend was very sweet about it, but I think next time we’ll just order in. I know this great Chinese place.

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20
Jul

Jury duty. The bane of my American existence.

I’m truly conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I want to do my civic duty. Pardon the Pollyanna sentiment, but I believe that as Americans it’s our responsibility to participate in the judicial system and give every citizen the right to a fair trial. On the other hand… It’s boring. And tedious. And boring. I hate it.

Even worse is when you’re not immediately called that first Monday morning. Such a tease. After two days in a row of having my automated BFF tell me that I needn’t bother showing up, I had become smugly confident that I would be let off the hook for the entire week… Not. That. Lucky.

I don’t hate jury duty because you have to sit there all day, waiting to see if you’ll be called to a panel. It isn’t because the café sells the most god-awful coffee on earth. (Upon my first sip, I immediately spit it out. I then proceeded to force the entire cup down my throat – hell, I had already paid the $2.45.) And it’s not because I’m forced to suffer through some pompous speech by some pompous judge as she enlightens me on the importance of doing my civic duty.

No, I hate jury duty because I’m surrounded by people.

Ugh. They are everywhere. As soon as I enter that soul-sucking holding cell, I suddenly feel like an unfortunate heifer in a PETA video forced to inhabit the same space with hundreds of other bigger, uglier, smellier cows without any fresh air or sunlight. Granted, I think jurors are rarely slaughtered once they perform their duty, but it feels just as depressing to be there.

I have this thing with personal space. I like a lot of it. That’s why I’ll book my plane ticket months ahead of time to ensure an aisle seat. It’s why I get pissed off when a stranger not only feels comfortable enough to share the armrest with me, but also will touch naked skin while doing it. It’s also why I take it personally when someone sits right next to me in the movie theater when literally dozens of other chairs are available many feet away.

I was able to snag an aisle seat that afternoon, but as luck would have it, I sat next to three chicks that were intent on chatting with each other. All day long. Awesome. Just what the world needs – people who want to be friendly and pleasant to each other. And before you ask – yes – I tried to find another seat, but it was either endure these women, or find myself stuck between a “let’s share your armrest” old lady and a “let’s share your leg space” hipster dude. (I know this from an unfortunate incident earlier that morning.) So I stayed put.

It’s nearly impossible to ignore someone else’s conversation. All I wanted to do was read my book, but all I could do was listen to these three broads go on and on about everything. The ringleader of the group was unstoppable, like the Michael Jordan of talking. This woman could have a conversation with a rock for five hours and not notice that she was the only one speaking. I actually was quite impressed – in a bitter, agitated kind of way. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about her before the day was over. Most importantly, she suffered from plantar fasciitis. What’s this you ask? Hell if I know, but apparently it’s extremely painful. Also, you can only wear boots. That’s it. No sandals. No high heels. But wait! You didn’t hear the best part of the story yet. The boots she had on were too big so she also was wearing two pairs of socks so that her feet wouldn’t slide around! And on one of the hottest days of the summer, too! Ha! How funny! That’s good stuff.

She also was a “professional caregiver.” She mostly walks dogs, but will also watch your children or make you dinner. She just loves to cook! Now be prepared to be shocked – she hasn’t taken a vacation in seven years. That’s dedication, folks. We all could learn a lesson from this woman. She also had very strong opinions about The Hurt Locker and California Pizza Kitchen.

The other two chicks weren’t nearly as vocal, but they said just enough to keep baiting Chatty Kathy. Meanwhile, I was slowly going insane. Sure, multiple conversations were being had all around the room, but for some reason my ears would not stop listening to these three women. But then a funny thing started to happen. At some point – perhaps at about hour three – I began to give into the insanity.

Chatty Kathy had launched into a tirade about how she liked animals more than people. That’s the reason she’s so perfect at her job! For the most part, she didn’t have to interact with other humans. On the one hand, I completely agreed with her point of view. Made sense to me. On the other, I found it extremely ironic that for someone who seemingly hated other people, she couldn’t stop talking to them.

At one point, these women engaged me, asking where I had bought my purse. Internally, I freaked out. Would I also be pulled into this abyss of mindless conversation?  I gave some casual remark, something along the lines of “I don’t know,” which immediately shut down their pending inquiry. Yet within minutes, I felt a twinge of regret. Somewhere along the line, these women had formed a friendship. No matter what was being discussed, they all were so happy and kind and curious about each other. Whether it was fake or not, I don’t know, but it was… nice.

By hour four, I was genuinely jealous of their little triumvirate. I wanted girl talk, too! The book wasn’t so interesting anymore. My literary crush, Chuck Klosterman, was now boring me. I pretended to still be reading, but really I was just doing it as a ploy so that I could continue eavesdropping on their conversation.

Then the announcement was made – “You are now released from service.” Thank you! The clerk began to call out each remaining juror’s name. Chatty Kathy – aka Julia Something – was then called. Before leaving, she turned to the other women: “It was so nice talking to you. Take care!” That was all. I half expected her to give out her phone number, her social security number, something… Nope. She just gathered up her things and left. The second woman was called shortly after. She turned to the third and gave her goodbye. They all were just so nice… I watched each departure with an inexplicable melancholy.

Once my own name was called, I turned around to see if anyone was going to say goodbye to me. No takers? Okay… I hightailed it out of there and met up with some gals for happy hour. As we sat there, chatting and laughing and enjoying each other’s company (along with some very yummy and very cheap drinks), I had a new appreciation for my friends. Conversation, even of the meaningless variety, is really nice from time to time. No matter if you’re just talking about walking dogs or shoes that don’t fit, it feels good to connect with others in those small ways. I also had a new appreciation for the USPS. Those folks work really hard. And should they happen to “lose” my next jury summons, I won’t hold it against them.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

13
Jul

I’ve been waiting a while to tell this tale. Always on my “want to post” list, I would eventually wuss out for fear of alienating a certain coworker, a kind gent whom I love dearly. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say coworker? I meant to say ex-coworker.

Once upon a time…

I went to an awesome school in the awesome city of Chicago. Alas, I love my alma mater. Chapman, I don’t mean you. You can suck it. (If you’re scratching your head – for reasons other than seborrheic dermatitis – then you must have missed “You’re Sweet, But No…” For shame!) But I digress… I have this weird relationship with Columbia College. Some might say the codependent kind. It’s like when you see those couples walking down the street – either the dude’s hot, and she’s not, or it’s the other way around. You curiously eyeball them and wonder why they’re together in the first place, right? Oh, you don’t? Really? Really? Well, I’m the “not so hot” girl who idolizes her boyfriend and hangs on his every word.

Therefore, it was with many tears that I finally said goodbye to CCC. For me, graduation was just one very public breakup with a cap, gown and Frank Rich. And just like we all have done from time to time when going through a breakup, I held onto any scrap of nostalgia that could serve as a final reminder of the happiness I once had. Some people keep cards. Some keep pictures. Me, I kept a slinky.

A few years pass by. I was working at _____ (to protect the not-so-innocent) and liked my office “homey.” I had the requisite pictures of family and friends on my desk. I had a blanket on the back of my chair in case I got chilly. But the piece de resistance? My beloved rainbow-hued slinky from college. If ever I became frustrated/overwhelmed/suicidal at work, I would just glance at my slinky and poof! All those bad feelings would instantly disappear.

So one rather mundane Monday morning, I skipped into work – as anyone can tell you I would often do – and was shocked by a rather gruesome sight. On my desk was a slinky, but not the slinky I had left a mere two days earlier. No, this slinky was twisted and warped, a tortured ball of tangled plastic. I swear I almost screamed. It was like the horse head scene from The Godfather. The alleged suspects who committed such a heinous crime? The children of my aforementioned coworker. Apparently they had come into the office over the weekend, and being children, got bored rather quickly. They then molested my poor slink-slink.

I was devastated. Devastated and pissed off. My officemate immediately tried to rectify the situation and reached for my mangled treasure. Hell, no! No one else was getting his or her hands on my precious piece of junk. I then attempted to untangle the mess myself, but to no avail… It was beyond help. Dejected, I pushed my slinky away as I headed into a production meeting…

A half-hour later, my roomie had somehow beaten me back to our office and was furiously trying to undo the angry knot. A tinge of human kindness then began to creep over me. I took a breath. Internal dialogue: “Anna, it’s just a thing. Just a cheap plastic toy. It shouldn’t matter so much. I’m making this guy feel really, really bad over a slinky.”

Not sure if he could tell that I was over it, but by that afternoon all was truly forgiven. No big deal. Actually, my coworker had been somewhat successful with his ghetto reconstructive surgery. The slinky had been detangled, but the damage was done. It would never be the beautiful, rounded slinky it once was. The plastic was stretched and deformed for good. Is this how parents feel when they realize their baby is ugly? You still love it, but… Maybe you can get another one – a better one – down the road somewhere.

Fast-forward a month. The slinky debacle is ancient history. The receptionist hands me a package, a box from Columbia College. Total confusion on my part. What could this be? I have friends in some pretty high places at CCC, thank you very much, but I never thought I’d get free swag from them. Sweet! Upon opening it, however, I glanced at the receipt and noticed my coworker’s name… No new slinky (those were made especially for graduation), but he had gotten me a pen, pennant, business card holder and keychain. OMG. I was such a douche. The man had felt so guilty about my stupid slinky that he had gone out and bought a bunch of CCC crap to make up for it. Wow. Coworker = 1. Anna = 0. Granted, I’m still not fond of children, but it’s not like they stole my checking account number or a kidney. They messed up my slinky. Slinkies are toys. Toys for kids.

Anyway, I immediately gave my coworker a hug and an apology. That night, though, I took my slinky home (I had purposely waited so as not to make him feel bad – guess that didn’t pan out – but I also wasn’t going to tempt fate twice)… As well as all my PEZ dispensers. Nobody better mess with my collector’s editions Chicago Cubs Snoopy and Charlie Brown PEZ. I will shiv you. With my slinky. *

* It has multiple sharp edges now. A single tear falls… Cue “My Heart Will Go On.”

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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